What to Add to Tomato Sauce

This is part of a series on ingredients to add to your homemade tomato sauce to give it a boost of flavor! For all the post in this series, click here to view them all.

Anyone that knows, knows I am a huge fan of the leek. I prefer them any day over onions. Leeks are more subtle. They add flavor without screaming from the mountaintops, “hey, there is leeks in this dish”. Much less boisterous than the onion. And I can avoid that whole crying thing that onions cause, despite what methods I try to prevent it (my eyes just don’t like onions). I like their fresh flavor as well. Also they make for excellent “onion rings” (check out my Food Network inspired recipe for them). When it comes to flavoring up my tomato sauce, you can bet that I am thinking leeks would make a great addition.

Selecting Leeks
When you are shopping for leeks I have some tips for you. Leeks are available year round. The best leeks will be the ones you find at your local farmer’s market during the late summer/early autumn. Plus the ones at the market I find to be cheaper. Often in stores they are by the pound and can end up being quite expensive, especially if you go the organic route. The size of the leeks matters for what you are going to use it for. I like the really big ones if I am making the leeks rings I mentioned above. Smaller ones are going for when I want to use them in multiple dishes. Pick out leeks that have the most white one the bottom. This is the most tender part of the vegetable. Don’t throw those tops off, they are tough but we can use them as I will talk about in moment. Avoid leeks with brown spots on them or that feel soft, this is a sign of age.

What Parts to Use for the Sauce
When I make my tomato sauce, I use a food mill to filter out the skin and seeds. This way I don’t have to worry about any peeling or seeds in my sauce and I can get a smooth product. This also gives me a great advantage. I can use the woody, green tops of the leeks to add flavor to the sauce and they will be filtered out by the food mill. If you don’t filter them out they will be tough and hard to chew. I save the tender white parts of the leeks for other dishes where I want to bite into the leeks themselves. If you like a sauce with some chunks in it, then go ahead and use the white parts, that’s totally fine.

In my experience the flavor of the tops aren’t as strong, so I use alot of them – more than you might think. It depends on how much of the tops have been trimmed. Some stores will trim off a lot of the tops before selling. I last got my leeks at the farmer’s market, so there was plenty green tops. You want a good handful. The top of 1 leek was good enough for me. I had a large stock put half full of Roma tomatoes ready to make sauce with. If you go with store bought leeks, I would suggest 2 or 3 leeks depending on how large they are.

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What to Add to Tomato Sauce

This is part of a series on ingredients to add to your homemade tomato sauce to give it a boost of flavor! For all the post in this series, click here to view them all.

Herbs (basil, oregano, thyme) are wonderful additions to any tomato sauce. Let’s not forget the spices as well. Spices that are actually seeds can add great flavor to tomato sauce and are so easy to incorporate. Two of my favorites come straight from my own garden – dill and fennel seed. Even if you don’t grow them yourself, you can find them at any well stocked spice section, best if you can buy them in bulk. Buying in bulk saves you money, saves your buying more than you need, and you normally get a fresh product that will keep it’s flavor longer.

Dill Seed

Dill Seed
A couple years ago I planted dill in my garden. Now I have never have to do that again. Each year many dill plants just pop up, seemingly out of nowhere in my garden. I let them go and have plenty of fresh dill. The plant will produce seeds once the flowers die back. These seeds are so easy to gather and so plentiful. Some I let go and fall back to the grown for next year’s crop. Dill adds a sweet, and slightly bitter flavor.

Fennel Seed

Fennel Seed
I grow Bronze fennel. It’s a produce beautiful bronze colored leaves that I use as an herb or just toss into the salad. As with the dill, the fennel produces me a ton of seed. Fennel has a nice licorice flavor. If you are a fan of Italian sausage, you like fennel, as it is a prominent ingredient in most Italian sausages. I absolutely love it with tomatoes.

Adding them to the Sauce
The nice thing about the seeds is that they are small and soft enough to just add into the sauce. I didn’t bother crushing them or anything, just threw a teaspoon of each type into my sauce. They pack a lot of flavor, so you shouldn’t need that many. I like using both of them as they offer completely different flavors. I added carrots to this sauce as well as they are all kind of in the same family and it just seems approach to “keep the family together!”.

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What to Add to Tomato Sauce

This is part of a series on ingredients to add to your homemade tomato sauce to give it a boost of flavor! For all the post in this series, click here to view them all.

When making your own tomato sauce, there are endless numbers of ways to give that sauce a boost in flavor. Adding other vegetables can really enrich the flavor of the sauce as well as adding the health benefits of additional vegetables. One vegetable that pairs really well in tomato sauce is celery. And you don’t need a lot of it to add a lot of flavor.

Farmer's Market Celery

Buy Farmer’s Market Celery if You Can
Does something look different about the picture of the celery you see in this post. Look at all those leaves. Look at how skinny the stalks are. Not what you normally find in the grocery store produce department. That is because this celery was purchased at a local farmer’s market. That is where you can get the best celery. Once you have had it fresh directly from a farmer, you will have a hard time going back to buying it at the store. Why is it so much better. First off, it’s the flavor. These little stalks pack more celery flavor than much larger stalks you are probably use to. Second, those leaves are a special treat. You can chop them up like any other herb to add flavor to a variety of dishes. For example, they would be great in a cabbage slaw for a pulled pork sandwich. Or they are wonderful addition to soups, especially carrot soup. Store bought celery usually has very little leaves on it if any. From the one bunch I got a the farmer’s market, I ended up with good sized container full of leaves.

Farmer's Market Celery

Adding the Celery to the Sauce
Since I am always run my tomato sauce through a food mill, I just toss the celery in the pot with the tomatoes to add the flavor. No need for a knife, just break it up with your hands. If you want to use the leaves (if you even have them), then I suggest giving them a fine chop and adding them to the sauce at the first end of the cooking for maximum flavor. Any herb I like adding at the end and the celery leaves are technically an herb (if you have celery seed that would be a spice). Even if you don’t have a food mill and want a smooth sauce, keep your stalks pieces large, so they can just be removed at the end with a pair of tongs. The food mill helps to crush the celery, maximizing it’s flavor potential.

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What to Add to Tomato Sauce

This is part of a series on ingredients to add to your homemade tomato sauce to give it a boost of flavor! For all the post in this series, click here to view them all.

My wife discovered this year, that she loves adding peppers to tomato sauce. We had a couple small orange bell peppers from my garden, we wanted to use up, so into the sauce they went. It added a nice, unexpected dimension of flavor to the sauce. I made sure to get some peppers to add to my next batch of sauce.

Peppers for Tomato Sauce

Choosing the Peppers
I personally don’t make really spicy tomato sauces, when adding peppers I typically go for sweet ones that enhance the sweetness of the sauce. Usually a bell peppers, but I have used a mild banana pepper that had a little bit of heat to it. If you want spicy, use any hot pepper that you like. You could also roast the peppers in the oven first to give them some chare and bring out their sweetness. I do this with Hatch chile peppers each year and then freeze them for later use.

Peppers for Tomato Sauce

The farmer’s market will give you the best variety of peppers to choose from. Stores peppers are most of the time, hot house peppers grow in a greenhouse in Canada, Mexico, or even Holland (the country, not the city on the west coast of Michigan). For sweetest peppers avoid the green ones or even the purple ones that most of the time are green underneath. Orange is our go to color.

How to Add them to the Sauce
If you chop them up fine enough they will turn to mush along with the rest of your tomatoes. Since I use a food mill to filter my sauce, I just give them a rough chop and run them along with the tomatoes through the mill. If you use hot ones, leaves the seeds out if you don’t want it too hot.

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What to Add to Tomato Sauce

This is part of a series on ingredients to add to your homemade tomato sauce to give it a boost of flavor! For all the post in this series, click here to view them all.

There is nothing like making tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes. The flavor and the sweetness can’t be matched from a can. If you are making sauce from canned tomatoes, then there is a way to up the sweetness (and the flavor) without having to add sugar. Throw in some carrots. Not only will the add sweetness to your sauce, they also give it a more rich, complex flavor. I have also found that when I have added carrots it has given the sauce and better texture and seems to help it thicken up faster.

Choosing Your Carrots
First off, I want you to promise me you will never, ever use pre cut “baby carrots” in your tomato sauce. Come on, promise me! The biggest problem with these carrots is that there is always excess moisture in the bags. This waters down the flavor and adding them to the sauce, won’t give you the flavor boost you are hoping for. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, buy whole carrots. You can use bunched carrots with the tops still attached – I honestly do not buy those. The price on them is usually a lot higher and while they may be fresher, the cheaper carrots in the bags do the job good enough. Save the bunched carrots with tops for when you are going to enjoy them raw.

Rainbow Carrots

I Love Rainbow Carrots
I will admit I am a sucker for rainbow carrots. I love the appearance of different shades of color. The different colored carrots do have different flavors, and each color offer a different health benefit. They are becoming easier and easier to find now, especially organic ones – which I recommend now as they are cheap enough to buy. Cal-Organic has bag of rainbow carrots I have seen at Meijer and Whole Foods Market, among other retailers. Trader Joe’s also sells rainbow carrots (which are probably the Cal-Organic ones in Trader Joe’s pacakgaing). I have seen some places that even carry loose rainbow carrots, so you can make your own mix (I usually pick out all the ones that aren’t orange!).

How to Add them to the Sauce
You can add them whole and then filter them out via a food mill or just a pair of tongs. Or you can dice them into small pieces and then will turn to mush along with the tomatoes. You add them in for the entire cooking process.

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Maple-Worcestershire Gravy

How much thought do you put on gravy? It is something you just throw together at the last second without much forethought or worse yet does it come out of a can or jar? Gravy is the sauce that ties the whole meal together from the turkey to the potatoes. I think you need to make it good. A good gravy can help cover up any turkey shortcomings. I am always up for trying out new gravy recipes. I saw that Rachael Ray had a recipe for a Maple-Worcestershire gravy. I thought that sounded interesting, let’s give it a go. You can print the recipe off at Food Network’s website. Here are my notes from this recipe.

Maple-Worcestershire Gravy

1. This gravy is made with a roux, which is how I like to make my gravy. Easier to thicken when you incorporate the fat and flour before adding any liquid. I also take advice from Alton Brown and replace half the flour with potato starch. By using two different types of flours it helps the gravy from becoming a solid mass shortly after finishing it.

2. To make this gravy really wow, you got to use the best ingredients. I like Lea & Perrins Low Sodium Worcestershire. They have been doing it since 1835, so they know what they are doing. It has the best flavor of any Worcestershire I have had. I also like their low sodium version as it gives me more control over the salt content.

3. For the maple syrup make sure you go dark. A Grade B or Dark Amber syrup would be best. There are a lot of bold flavors in this gravy, so you need a bold syrup to stand up with them.

4. I like to make the gravy in a frying pan. I like the wide open spacing for whisking. And I feel the gravy thickens up so much faster with a wider surface area. Just be careful to keep on eye on it, so you don’t burn it.

This was a mighty tasty gravy. It was unlike any gravy I have ever had. That being said, I didn’t really like it on the potatoes by themselves. The sweetness wasn’t working for me with the mashers. Though I do think it would be great just on turkey itself where the sweetness would enhance the meat. My 5 year old did not want any part of this gravy. I was happy and disappointed at the same time with this recipe.

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I'm Eric. I live in Ann Arbor, MI with my wife, 3 kids, and a flock of ducks. I love grocery shopping, trying new fruits, farmer's market, and traveling.
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